Ad Biz Diversity Panel Suggests Poaching Talent From Other Industries

More Internships and Better Self-Promotion Can Also Help Boost Minority Recruitment

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NEW YORK ( -- For years Madison Avenue has been arguing that finding minority candidates for middle- and upper-level management positions is difficult. So one novel suggestion floated during a panel discussion of diversity, sponsored by the VCU Brandcenter during Advertising Week, was to look elsewhere.

Jon Cropper, founder of marketing firm FuturLogic, said there's an opportunity to make a play for all those unemployed consultants and marketers of color, courtesy of the recession. With solid experience in business strategy, consultants in the midst of an unexpected career change could be assets for agencies -- especially on the media-planning side. While that might mean pay cuts for some, at least agencies have the lure of sexier work environments, he said.

Mr. Cropper, formerly a chief marketing officer for Sean "Diddy" Combs' companies, also points to record labels, where small budgets and marketing plans executed in-house make, by necessity, for creative, agile talent.

That's not to say the advertising agency world needs to go poaching other industries. As Heide Gardner, Interpublic Group of Cos.' chief diversity officer, put it, minority talent in adland is already out there and is ready for promotion. Right now, Black Creatives is a global network of advertising and marketing people that both amasses and develops multicultural talent.

For entry-level recruiting, William Goodloe, president-CEO of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, an organization that trains and places minorities in Fortune 500 companies, offers its internships with those companies as a model for advertising. In 2008, SEO placed 430 interns in 44 Fortune 500 companies, including investment banks and marketers such as Xerox and 80% received full-time offers at the end of their internships. He parallels the financial and advertising industries as businesses that focus on selling ideas.

"These kids don't come in the side or back doors," he said. "We train them and they go through the programs like all other intern candidates."

In terms of training minority talent and widening the pipeline into agencies, Rick Boyko, director of ad school VCU Brandcenter, suggested that one of the simple things the industry can do is to do a better job of marketing itself to minorities.

"The ad industry is not good at getting people at the top of the funnel," Mr. Boyko said. "It could do a much better job of promoting itself to people of color."

The industry, through the 4A's and other trade groups and programs, does offer internships, but the results do not translate into the long-term success seen in other sectors. One of the reasons, Mr. Goodloe said, might be insufficient buy-in from the top. CEOs of banks such as Goldman Sachs sit down with intern classes during their time there.

According to Ms. Gardner, Interpublic has made C-level diversity objectives a priority. Often overlooked is that the company has included diversity targets in the criteria for executive bonuses. Tying that performance to pay seems to be paying off to a certain extent, she said.

African-American spending has reached $913 billion, according to 2008 data from Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. Trade publication Hispanic Business projects Hispanic purchasing power in the U.S. to hit $1 trillion. Asian-Americans are expected to spend $670 billion by 2012, according to an AsianWeek study. Beyond the financial incentive for clients, Ms. Gardner also points out diverse agencies make better work.

"Homogeneous creative teams limit the number of idea combinations," Ms. Gardner said. "They can also come up with some embarrassing creative."

The panel itself grew out of an off-the-record meeting held earlier in the week. The meeting, according to Mr. Boyko, was the first in what he hopes to be an annual gathering in which industry executives and thought leaders discuss issues facing the advertising and marketing world. In addition to Ms. Gardner and Messrs. Boyko, Goodloe and Cropper, the meeting also included PepsiCo chief marketer Dave Burwick; 4A's CEO Nancy Hill; Martin Agency President and Creative Director Mike Hughes; Publicis, New York, CEO Joe McCarthy; and Johnson & Johnson Corporate VP Brian Perkins, along with Advertising Age's assistant managing editor Ken Wheaton.

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